We have a neighborhood skunk. I’ve never actually seen him, but I sure have smelled him. Usually it’ll just be a whiff of that strange, slightly piney smell that drifts in through the front windows early in the morning or after dark. Just enough to let me know that he’s waddled through the yard recently.
A couple weeks ago, though, after the kids had gone to bed, I was watching television and the scent suddenly drifted in. Normally, it would just dissipate but after five minutes it was still there. I wonder what he’s doing out there in our yard, I thought to myself. But, comfortable as I was on the couch and figuring that there wasn’t too much harm he could do (trash securely locked, etc), I didn’t bother to find out and after a few more minutes, he and the smell moved on.
The next morning, though, when we went outside, my daughter shouted, “What happened to my bean plant!?” And then I realized what that damn skunk had been doing for so long in our yard.
You see, my daughter, who is five, grew this bean plant from a sprout in her pre-school classroom. She was immensely proud of it, and very proud that we kept it alive. We replanted it in a large pot and we’ve greatly enjoyed watching it grow; its pretty, heart shaped leaves multiply; delicate white flowers bloom; and then, finally, tiny, fetal beans appear. Just a couple days before the skunk paid us a visit, we had each picked and eaten a ripe green bean, and my daughter clearly felt a deep satisfaction in having taken her plant all the way from beginning to end. I promised that in a few days we’d be able to pick more when they were ready.
So, the morning after the skunk came by, she was horrified and, even more, aboslutely furious to find that her bean plant had been stripped bare. Not only had every single bean been removed but all but two leaves had vanished as well. Left behind we’re just the pathetic spindles of the stalk. The little bastard had eaten everything else.
I comforted my daughter, telling her that I was pretty sure a skunk had eaten it because he was very, very hungry. I hoped that she’d see it as a kindness if she thought the skunk needed it more than she did. She did not. “That stupid skunk,” she said with a foot stomp. And for several days afterward, every time we walked by the denuded little plant, she’d mutter “That dumb skunk. I hate him” under her breath.
I figured the plant was a goner. After all, with only a couple tiny leaves left, how could it possibly recover? I figured I ought to dispose of it. But in a combination of my laziness and forgetfulness, it didn’t happen.
And over the past couple of weeks, the plant I thought was surely marked for death instead thrived. The leaves multiplied, first tiny little things and then growing g bigger and bigger. And then, as I took out the trash tonight, I discovered something I did not expect this late in the season: the bud of a tiny flower. That is one tenacious little plant.
I don’t actually care if we get any more beans off this little plant, but I’m impressed by its ability to cling to life. And I’m grateful for this reminder that tiny, vulnerable, fragile-seeming things are actually often shockingly hearty things. Appearances are, after all, frequently decieving and expectations were practically made to be upended. And if that sounds comes back, I might just throttle him with my bare hands.